Audit Commission to award Best Value star ratings

27 May 99
A star rating system similar to that used by hotels and restaurants is likely to be applied to local authorities as part of Best Value inspections of their services.

28 May 1999

The Audit Commission announced on May 26 that it favoured introducing the system to assess individual council services. A range of ratings – from zero to five stars – will be awarded depending on the level of service and whether any improvement is likely (see chart).

Consultation on the issue will follow, but Paul Vevers, the commission's director of inspection, supports this approach. 'We owe it to the public to communicate in terms so that they can readily understand the overall assessment of the service,' he said. 'A star rating feels to us a way with which the public would be familiar.'

Councils will receive an overall rating and a more detailed breakdown based on the different activities involved and the 4Cs of Best Value – challenge, compare, consult and compete.

The Local Government Association accepted that some form of rating system was inevitable, although it was concerned about comparisons between authorities. 'A star rating system could be a bit too simplistic, but we will have to discuss the whole situation further,' said Brian Briscoe, the LGA's chief executive.

Doug Forbes, managing director of consultancy Barony, which operates contracts for local government, welcomed the use of the star system but warned that it needed to be qualitative, not quantitative. 'We will support the system as long as the inspectors get to the stars by doing more than just ticking boxes,' he added.

Further debate will be necessary on what constitutes one and two stars. In its consultation document, the commission allocated one star to councils performing poorly but likely to improve following the Best Value review. Two stars denoted average performers unlikely to improve.

Vevers admitted that it could be argued that both situations were equally disappointing. Matthew Warburton, head of strategy at the LGA, is also concerned about this distinction.

'Is it better to be mediocre now and mediocre later, or bad now and much better later?' he asked. 'Both are sub-optimal but you can't easily say which is worse.'


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